Sometimes a person's world falls apart. It can happen at any time, at any age. For a few people &endash; and I mean a very few &endash; it never happens at all. But for most people, the world sooner or later comes apart. It happened to me two years ago when I was thirteen. The world cracked open like an eggshell. Life was a gooey mess.
That's the way it goes sometimes.
* * *
And just who am I, you ask.
The name is Rimsky Mittendorf.
Yeah, yeah, right. Rimsky's a strange name. I know that. I've been told a thousand times. Every year on the first day of school, the teachers will call my name and then look up and ask “is your name really Rimsky?” Even though I say “yes, it's Rimsky,” the teachers can't seem to deal with it. For the first month they usually call me Rocky or Ricky or Ramsey.
That's the way it goes sometimes.
* * *
So how did I end up with a name like Rimsky?My dad, George Mittendorf, has two great passions in life: classical music and more classical music. He plays violin in the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. His favorite composer is a deceased Russian named Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. So here I am: Rimsky Mittendorf. Unfortunately, babies don't have much say in what they're named, but maybe I should count my blessings. I might have been named Korsakov Mittendorf.
My mother, Clara Mittendorf, wanted to name me Ringo, after Ringo Starr, one of the Beatles. I think Ringo Mittendorf would have been a really cool name. It would have been a name with a ring to it. Literally.
Mom still listens to the Beatles, even though the band broke up years ago. Dad still listens to Rimsky-Korsakov even though the famous composer died in 1908.
Sometimes things just don't last.
* * *
People are crazy. Well, not all of them, but many of them. The few who are cool I call Zims. The uncool people of the planet I call Pods.
One of my most important missions in life is to avoid being a Pod. Accordingly, I've formulated several rules to help me become a Zim. Rimsky's Rule Number One: never name your children after famous people with unusual or uncool names. It's too late for me, but maybe this rule will help in case I ever have any children of my own.
Anyway, my parents were definitely Pods two years ago. My dad always wanted the house neat as a pin: no clutter, no books lying around, no mail on the dining room table. On bookshelves, all volumes had to be arranged according to a descending order of height from left to right. Mom often stuck a tall hardcover in the middle of the short paperbacks just to aggravate the poor man. In the middle of a violin solo, he would notice the offending volume and go batty. His fingers suddenly couldn't find the right strings, and his solo would turn into the sound of someone stepping on a cat's tail.
My mom, on the other hand, didn't care if the house looked like a scene from Twister. (Spielberg could have saved big bucks by using our house as a movie set. When dad was on the road with the symphony, the only piece of debris missing from our living room was the random cow which mid-western cyclones are fond of hurling across highways.) Mom was interested in what she called the "deep-down dirt." The house could be a mess, but everything beneath the clutter was supposed to be "antibacterial." (She said that. Really.) She dusted and mopped three times a week. Dad said mom had an irrational fear of germs. Mom said dad was irrational &endash; period.
Both of my parents were obsessive-compulsive. They could never manage, however, to obsess about the same things. That makes for trouble in a marriage.
* * *
Rimsky's Rule Number Two comes in the form of a question: what's more important? a) clutter on a table, or b) dust on a table. The answer is c) none of the above. It's the table itself that counts.
* * *
My parents were also different in other ways.
Mom liked to play golf. Dad tagged along once and said that golf was boring. He said "I've had more fun watching ice melt."
Mom frowned upon this remark. On the way home, she gave dad a cup of ice cubes.
Dad liked going to the opera. Mom went twice and made Dad leave early both times. She said "I'd rather sit through four hours of radio static." She also said that most operas weren't very believable. "A three-hundred-pound woman singing about starving to death is just plain silly. The porker's got too much meat on her bones."
Dad frowned upon this remark. On the way home, he tuned the car radio to pure static.
* * *
Dad liked Mexican food. Mom liked Italian. Dad was a quiet man who didn't talk much. Mom's mouth started moving as soon as her eyes opened in the morning. Ten hours later, Dad would frequently mutter under his breath that "Miss Antibacterial should have been born with a mute button."
And, of course, they disagreed on more important matters as well. Dad wanted to save more money for retirement; mom wanted to spend lots of cash on clothes and gadgets she saw on cable shopping clubs. (She once bought five Star Wars C3P0 Martini Mixers to give as Christmas presents.) Dad felt that Mom made most of the decisions; Mom felt that Dad made most of the decisions. Since Dad was quiet most of the time, Mom claimed he was always grumpy. Since Mom talked a lot, Dad said she was always complaining.
And on and on. You get the picture.
In short, they just couldn't get along, and that's when my world started cracking. Life was a messy egg yolk. My parents got divorced.
Why couldn't someone have written an opera about a three-hundred pound woman who liked to play golf? Things might have been different.
* * *
Life got very confusing. I lived with my dad on weekends. I lived with my mom, at our "regular" house, the rest of the time. This meant that I listened to a lot of music by Rimsky-Korsakov on weekends. During the week, I had a steady diet of the Beatles.
During the week, I thought a lot about my dad. What did he do with his time (besides play Rimsky-Korsakov on the violin, that is)? Did he watch television? Arrange his books? Think about me?
On weekends, I thought about Mom. What did she do with her time (besides dust and mop, that is)? Did she scatter extra trash around the house? Play golf? Think about me?
For the first few months of their separation, I had this weird fantasy that while I was with one parent, the other was bathing some surrogate child with all the attention that was rightfully mine. Perhaps that's why Mom and Dad had gotten divorced &endash; they wanted the chance to audition a new son.
All children of divorce, at some point, believe they are the cause of the split-up.
I began to worry incessantly. Did my parents love me? Why were they putting me through this agony? I worried so much that Mom hauled me to a doctor, who said that I might be developing an ulcer. He gave me some chalky tablets to chew whenever I felt the sea of acid in my stomach creeping toward high tide.
* * *
In space, binary stars can orbit each other indefinitely unless gravitational forces within the galaxy pull them apart. Astronomers theorize that if a binary system has planets when the system is ripped apart, then any planets that the stars share are swung back and forth between the two retreating stars in elliptical, irregular orbits. Sometimes the planets themselves might get torn apart in the process.
That's the way the universe goes sometimes. Planets, as well as children of divorce, have to put up with irreconcilable gravitational differences.
* * *As you'll see later, I developed a plan over time. I was somehow going to get my parents back into the same orbit. As you'll also see, cosmic engineering is quite complicated.
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© William Hammett